This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Malaysia ordered its embassy in Pyongyang closed on Friday in a tit-for-tat escalation after North Korea severed diplomatic ties with Kuala Lumpur over the extradition of a North Korean man to the United States to face money-laundering charges.
Bilateral ties have been strained since the Pyongyang-linked murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 four years ago.
“The Government of Malaysia is now compelled by the decision of the DPRK to close the Embassy of Malaysia in Pyongyang, which operation had already been suspended since 2017,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Friday.
“At the same time, the government will issue an order for all the diplomatic staff and their dependents at the Embassy of the DPRK in Kuala Lumpur to leave Malaysia within 48 hours from today, 19 March 2021,” it said.
In a statement carried Friday by state news agency KCNA, nuclear-armed North Korea announced “total severance” of diplomatic relations, citing the unpublicized extradition this week of North Korean citizen Mun Chol Myong to the United States.
Mun, the first North Korean ever extradited to the United States to face a criminal trial, claimed he was the victim of a “politically motivated” extradition request aimed at pressuring North Korea over its missile program.
Malaysia’s Federal Court earlier this month dismissed Mun’s final appeal against the extradition to face four counts of money laundering charges and two counts of conspiracy to launder money.
North Korea said in the statement that Malaysia’s repatriation of Mun – on March 17 as confirmed by Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s office Friday – was “a super-large hostile act against the DPRK in subservience to U.S. pressure.”
The extradition came as North Korea this week rebuffed U.S. moves to resume talks aimed at ending the hardline communist state’s nuclear weapons drive.
“We warn in advance that the U.S. – the backstage manipulator and main culprit of this incident – that it will also be made to pay a due price,” it added.
From Singapore to North Korea
Mun, a man in his 50s who had lived in Malaysia since 2008, was arrested in May 2019 after the U.S. accused him of supplying prohibited luxury goods from Singapore to North Korea, in violation of United Nations sanctions.
He allegedly laundered funds through front companies, and issued fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to North Korea, while he was working in Singapore, prior to moving to Malaysia in 2008.
But Pyongyang claimed in its statement that Mun had been engaged in legitimate external trade activities in Singapore for many years.
“Therefore, it is an absurd fabrication to argue that he was involved in money laundering.”
Pyongyang accused the Malaysian judicial system of failing to furnish any proof of Mun’s offense, despite repeated requests by the North Korean embassy and Mun’s lawyer to that effect.
The statement further claimed, without providing any evidence, that Malaysian legal officials were paid off by U.S. officials to secure the extradition, and that Putrajaya was promised free military weapons and equipment by the United States.
Contacted by BenarNews, Mun’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, said that he did not know about his client’s extradition. He said the North Korean embassy should have been informed about it.
‘Decision unwarranted, disproportionate’
The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said it “deeply regretted” North Korea’s decision to sever 48 years of diplomatic ties.
“Malaysia denounces the decision as unfriendly and unconstructive, disrespecting the spirit of mutual respect and good neighborly relations among members of the international community.”
It has given the North Korean embassy staff and their kin in Kuala Lumpur 48 hours to pack their bags and leave the country.
Malaysia suspended operation of its embassy in Pyongyang in 2017 after it secured the safe return of nine citizens held in Pyongyang in exchange for the release of Kim Jong Nam’s body.
Malaysia’s once-close ties hit rock bottom after Kim Jong Nam was killed with a banned nerve agent at one of Kuala Lumpur’s international airports in February 2017.
“Malaysia had always considered the DPRK as a close partner since the establishment of the diplomatic relations in 1973,” said the statement, adding that Malaysia had continued to support the DPRK even during difficult times, including after the “deplorable” assassination of Jong Nam in 2017.
Therefore, Pyongyang’s decision is unwarranted, disproportionate, and certainly disruptive toward the promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, the statement added.
It said Mun’s conviction and extradition were based on the principles of justice and rule of law, adding that the Malaysian government has rejected a series of diplomatic notes from North Korea for the government to intervene in the country’s judiciary and legal system.
“The extradition was only carried out after the due legal process had been exhausted [and] the rights of Mun Chol Myong while in Malaysian custody were also guaranteed and fulfilled, including his access to his own defense counsel, as well as to consular assistance and visits by his family.”